Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for Far Cry 3.
[Trigger Warning: This post concerns a plotline in Far Cry 3 where a secondary character is raped, as well as some related cultural artifacts that also feature rape.]
Buck should have gotten away.
Buck is a peculiar hitman in Far Cry 3. Apparently employed by the game's big bad, Hoyt, Buck has an interest in men, and in ancient Chinese artifacts. As it happens, he presently "owns" one of protagonist Jason Brody's male friends, and will exchange him if Jason retrieves a ceremonial knife originating from the treasure ships of Zheng He. Since Jason needs the knife for another purpose, it is obvious from the beginning of the adventure that he will come away from Buck's tasks with both friend and knife. That's how these games work, and Far Cry 3 is relentlessly conventional in that respect.
When Jason first learns of Buck from an ally, he responds by referring to [TW] the sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1 in which the comatose Beatrix Kiddo is raped by an orderly named Buck and men who pay him. This is a scene that has inspired a complex set of reactions, because it operates as a kind of rape joke, in which the punchline is the mundane way both Buck and his "customer" treat the degradation of another human being. To the extent that it's humorous, it's not at the victim's expense, but it still made many viewers uncomfortable, even angry.
At the same time, many responses felt the scene was acceptable because Kiddo murders her abusers. In a review for The F Word, Aideen Johnston puts it succinctly:
However, for those of you who are now put off seeing the movie because I mentioned the words "rape scene," don't worry—it's not as bad as you might think.
Without going into too much detail, she kills the bastards. In the most painful way imaginable. Far from being a distressing scene to watch, I felt a sense of triumph.
Amy Tucker identifies this moment, and the film's revenge motif more broadly, as a "post-feminist look at the damsel in distress," in which the female protagonist, though physically weakened, uses her wits and skill to punish her attackers. I won't pretend to be able to resolve the question of whether rape-revenge motifs are empowering or not. I merely want to point out that even an audience one would expect to object most loudly to a humorously-intended rape scene in a film accepted that scene primarily because the victim was able to take revenge.
This was not the first time Tarantino had used a rape-revenge motif, of course. An even more extreme example of the motif appeared in Pulp Fiction, where the gangster Marsellus Wallace suffers a homosexual rape before his attackers are killed and wounded. Marsellus promises to "get medieval" on the surviving rapist, whom he has already shot in the groin. This sequence is, if anything, even more shocking in its content than the "Buck" sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1. Nonetheless, audiences approved of the sequence, no doubt because it ends with the rapists receiving their just reward.
This brings us back to Buck and the ceremonial knife. Having jumped through the usual mission-based hoops, Jason is at last invited to bring the knife to Buck's place. There he finds that his friend, Keith, has been brutalized by Buck. The villain himself appears, and threatens not only to continue raping Keith, but also to rape Jason as well. A fight ensues, in which Jason kills Buck using the ceremonial knife.
Afterwards, Jason reassures Keith that he will "come back from this," to which Keith responds "None of us will." That's an interesting sentiment, but it exists only in the dialogue. There are few opportunities to talk to Keith again, and the fact that he has suffered from brutal rape does not come up in the normal flow of the game. From the perspective of the game itself, the incident is over. Buck is dead, the end.
But it isn't over. Even in the rare cases where rapists are appropriately prosecuted and punished that isn't the end. There is no "end." The emotional and psychological damage from rape can and does last for a whole lifetime, even if the perpetrator is behind bars, even if he's dead. Why do you think this post has trigger warnings?
This is what bothers me about the rape-revenge motif; it lives on the supposition that the revenge solves everything. You killed the bastards, so it's all better now. That just isn't true.
By letting the player kill Buck, Far Cry 3 buys into that idea. The Buck story ends, and Keith's life-long process of coming to terms with his brutalization, although it surely happens, never happens for the player in any meaningful way. You killed the bastard, so it's over. Far Cry 3 lets that feeling pass without any more challenge than a single line of dialogue, when it could have brought the idea to life. All it needed to do was let Buck get away.
Letting Buck escape would deny the player the illusion of closure that comes from taking revenge for Keith. Buck doesn't even have to actually show up again; just the thought that he might do so would be enough to undercut the player's confidence in his choices, his feeling of assurance and safety. It would bring Keith's experience of permanent fear into the player's experience of the game world. A pale imitation, perhaps, but maybe enough to reach the writer's avowed goal of getting players to examine their behaviors and assumptions.
As it is, Far Cry 3 doesn't do that. It gives the player power, and lets him feel comfortable. It lets him feel like he is making the right choices. When Keith says that none of Jason's friends are coming back from this, it lets him be wrong. Because it lets you kill the bastard, and it lets that be the end.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
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